New PhD opportunity in our lab!

Our lab is part of MultiMind, an EU-funded international multidisciplinary and multisectorial training network on multilingualism. MutliMind has now advertised 15 fully-funded 3-year PhDs across its beneficiary institutions, to commence in Autumn 2018. One of these positions will be a collaboration between our lab and Dr Ngee Thai Yap (Universiti Putra Malaysia), and will be based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, with a six-month secondment in Reading, and co-supervision by Christos Pliatsikas and Prof. Doug Saddy. It will investigate brain structure and connectivity in the multilingual and multiliterate brain. Feel free to apply for this exciting opportunity!

For details of the project: click here and scroll down to ESR6.

Click here for the eligibility criteria for MultiMind (including specific to ESR6) and here for the application procedure.

For further information, contact the Principal Investigator, Dr Ngee Thai Yap: ngeeyap@gmail.com

 

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Our new MRI study on bilingualism and ageing is underway!

dementiaOnly three days after we first advertised it, today we scanned our first participant for Toms Voits’ new study on bilingualism and its effects on the brain! If you are over 50 years old and interested in receiving a picture of your brain, check here for the details of this study. We are particularly interested in participants diagnosed with Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) or early stages of dementia.

 

Participants needed for MRI study! Do you want a picture of your brain?

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We are looking for participants for an MRI study! Are you or a friend/relative more than 50 years old? Interested in high-definition image of your/their brain?

This is an opportunity to take part in a MRI study looking at the effects of bilingualism on the brain later in life, supervised by Dr Christos Pliatsikas, Dr Holly Robson and Professor Jason Rothman. We are looking for speakers of English as a second language who live in the UK (including learning both languages from birth), and native speakers of English (with little to no experience with a second language). The participants must be 50 or more years old. This includes individuals diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment or early stages of dementia. Participants need to be right-handed and have no history of speech and/or language disorders including dyslexia. Feel free to share information about this study with friends and family members who might be interested in participating.

 

What do I have to do?

The study looks at effects of bilingualism over a period of time, so you will be asked to participate in two testing sessions approximately 18 months apart. The study has an MRI and a behavioural component.

An MRI scanning session will take place in the Reading Functional Imaging Facility (RFIF), in the School of Psychology and Clinical Language Sciences, University of Reading.

The behavioural component consists of some tasks tapping in various aspects of your cognition, such as attention and memory. This may take place in the School of Psychology and Clinical Language Sciences, University of Reading, or at your home, depending on your preference. You will also be asked to fill out a Language Background Questionnaire.

Participants may also only participate in the behavioural component of the study, if they are not eligible for an MRI scan.

How long will it take?

The MRI scan lasts about 40 minutes. The behavioural testing may take up to 4 hours and can be done over multiple visits.

The University will cover your travel expenses. You will also receive a high-resolution anatomical image of your brain later, after your participation.

 

For more information, and to book your participation, please get in touch with Mr T Voits via email: toms.voits@pgr.reading.ac.uk

 

New publication on stuttering in Human Brain Mapping

Connally, E., Ward, D., Pliatsikas, C., Finnegan, S., Boyles, R., Jenkinson, M. & Watkins, K. (2018): Separation of trait and state in stuttering. Human Brain Mapping, doi: 10.1002/hbm.24063

To access, click here

Abstract

Stuttering is a disorder in which the smooth flow of speech is interrupted. People who stutter show structural and functional abnormalities in the speech and motor system. It is unclear whether functional differences reflect general traits of the disorder or are specifically related to the dysfluent speech state. We used a hierarchical approach to separate state and trait effects within stuttering. We collected sparse-sampled functional MRI during two overt speech tasks (sentence reading and picture description) in 17 people who stutter and 16 fluent controls. Separate analyses identified indicators of: (1) general traits of people who stutter; (2) frequency of dysfluent speech states in subgroups of people who stutter; and (3) the differences between fluent and dysfluent states in people who stutter. We found that reduced activation of left auditory cortex, inferior frontal cortex bilaterally, and medial cerebellum were general traits that distinguished fluent speech in people who stutter from that of controls. The stuttering subgroup with higher frequency of dysfluent states during scanning (n = 9) had reduced activation in the right subcortical grey matter, left temporo-occipital cortex, the cingulate cortex, and medial parieto-occipital cortex relative to the subgroup who were more fluent (n = 8). Finally, during dysfluent states relative to fluent ones, there was greater activation of inferior frontal and premotor cortex extending into the frontal operculum, bilaterally. The above differences were seen across both tasks. Subcortical state effects differed according to the task. Overall, our data emphasise the independence of trait and state effects in stuttering

New book chapter on Critical Periods in Second Language Acquisition

DeLuca, V., Miller, D., Pliatsikas, C. and Rothman, J. (in press) Brain adaptations and neurological indices of processing in adult Second Language Acquisition: challenges for the Critical Period Hypothesis. To appear in: Schwieter, J. W. (ed.) (2019) The Handbook of the Neuroscience of Multilingualism. Wiley-Blackwell. ISBN 9781119387695

To access, email the first author Vincent De Luca (vincent.deluca[ad]pgr.reading.ac.uk), or use the contact form. 

Abstract

Stemming from the seminal work of Penfield and Roberts (1959) and Lenneberg (1967), a major question in adult language learning studies—indeed one that transcends all paradigms—has involved the extent to which adult language acquisition and processing is destined to be fundamentally different in adulthood compared to childhood. The basis of the original claims of the Critical Period Hypothesis (Lenneberg, 1967) regards neurological maturation after puberty; brain plasticity is said to be lost or greatly reduced, rendering the mechanisms that underlie language learning necessarily distinct and thus disadvantaging adults. No one denies that child and adult developmental paths differ; however, the evidence that is used to support critical/sensitive period effects are decisively not clear (see e.g., Abrahamsson and Hyltenstam 2009; Long, 2005, 2013; DeKeyser, 2000 as compared to Rothman, 2008; Bialystok and Hakuta 1994; Birdsong and Molis, 2001; Birdsong and Vanhove, 2016; Birdsong, 2014 for review and opposing views). With few exceptions, the vast majority of “relevant evidence” on the matter comes from behavioral experimentation or spontaneous production, most often from L2 populations not exposed to the target language in a way similar to child L1 acquirers (e.g., adults tend to be classroom learners and children tend to be naturalistic learners). In the past two decades, technologies have progressed that permit us to have a renewed look at the Critical Period debate. That the healthy brain remains plastic throughout the lifespan is no longer controversial within neurocognitive psychology (see Fuchs and Flügge, 2014 for review). And so, the neuro-maturational basis of the Critical Period Hypothesis advocated originally in Lenneberg (1967) and assumed by many ever since is necessarily challenged. In this chapter, we focus on how neurolinguistic evidence—EEG/ERP and (f)MRI data—can help us adjudicate between various views regarding the Critical Period debate and how to best account for the ubiquitously noted differences that align with age of acquisition effects in language acquisition/processing.

New students in our lab!

Our lab is growing! We have some new recruits:

-Eleanor Luckock is a PhD student based in University of Reading Malaysia (first supervisors: Prof. Carmel Houston-Price and Dr Rachel Pye). Her PhD topic is How does multilingual language experience influence vocabulary acquisition in an additional unfamiliar language? Her work in our lab will involve designing a new ERP experiment for her thesis.

-Varun Arunachalam Chandran is a PhD student that recently joined us (first supervisor: Prof. Bhismadev Chakrabarti). Varun will look at the effects of autism on the structure of the brain by using methods targeting both the grey and the white matter.

-Holly Davies is an MSc student in our Speech and Language Therapy programme. In collaboration with Dr Tomasina Oh (Plymouth Marjon University), Holly will be looking at the effects of multilingualism on brain structure, comparing monolingual to bilingual and multilingual participants.

-James Philip is an MSc student in our Language Sciences programme. In collaboration with Dr Wesley Weimer (University of Michigan) will be looking at structural effects in the brain of experienced computer programmers.

All in all, exciting times ahead! As always, if you are interested in joining our lab, including applying for a PhD, feel free to email at c.pliatsikas[at]reading.ac.uk,  or use the contact form.

Invited talk at St. Philomena’s Catholic High School for Girls

I was recently honoured by an invitation to talk at the St Philomena’s Catholic High School for Girls. At what turned out to be a really inspiring session, I had the opportunity to talk with the students about the brain and its basic and higher cognitive functions. Perhaps more interestingly, we also had the opportunity to discuss (and debunk) popular beliefs about the brain, such as that there are “male” and “female” brains, that there are “left-brained” and “right-brained” people, and that humans only use 10% of their brain. This presentation can be found here.

 

 

In all, a great day! Who knows, this might be the new generation of congitive neuroscientists! Special thanks to St. Philomena’s and particularly to Mr Christos Stavrou for the invitation!